A man who knows meatballs
My friend Doron might lust for a more well-endowed kitchen, but he can make a mean meatball.
I should have guessed as much. After all, last summer Doron, Elizabeth, and I happened to find ourselves together in Paris for five weeks—quelle coïncidence, non?—and there was much, much meat. The man knows his stuff.
Doron and Liz were sharing a sixth-floor walk-up in the tangled heart of the Marais, and I was a mere ten-minute walk to the east, in a studio on the edge of the artsy 11th arrondissement. As luck and geography would have it, halfway between our apartments was boulevard Richard Lenoir, where each Thursday and Sunday row upon row of covered stands would magically sprout from the pavement, blossoming into the city’s largest outdoor market. From the Place de la Bastille to the Bréguet-Sabin Métro station, tables unfurled to offer crates of (cheap!) fruits and vegetables, some still splotched with dirt and smelling appealingly of damp, minerally soil. And that wasn’t all: other booths proffered neatly arranged bottles of olive and nut oils; display cases full of meat, sausages, terrines, and sauerkraut; straw mats covered with cheese in various stages of ooze; troughs mounded with nuts, dried fruits, and olives; baskets of stacked bread; and trays of hummus, halvah, or kofta.
On a previous Paris stay from 2001 to 2002, I’d managed to become a market insider, working for several months for an oil vendor called Mille et Une Huiles. Under the wise and only occasionally short-tempered tutelage of Monsieur Francis Dijos, I learned to distinguish various olive oils by nuances in their flavor: “like tomatoes on the vine,” “like artichokes,” “like freshly mown grass,” we’d chant. I also had my first taste of sweet argan oil, wooed customers with my exotic American accent, and even managed to drip some of our products down the front of my pricey and punk-chic Michael Kors coat. That market experience, however, would pale in comparison to what I’d find with Doron and Liz in July 2004. They brought me to the meat.
Each Sunday, they’d traipse over to the market around noon and collect for the week ahead: ingredients for a spinach soup, apricots for drippy afternoon binges, and bleu d’Auvergne or an aged chèvre for the daily cheese plate. And then, one fateful afternoon, there was the sopressata. The Italian specialties vendor was one of the more expensive ones in the market, and its cured meats were beyond compare: long cylinders of every diameter, rosy meat flecked with translucent white fat. The sopressata was clearly the vedette of the display, its impressively fatty cross-section bared for onlookers. Doron and Liz, ever gourmands, couldn’t resist ordering a few slices. Little did they know, the stuff must have been encrusted with gold leaf: their dozen slices would weigh in at a heart-stopping 18 euros. That Sunday would forever be remembered as the Day of Very Expensive Charcuterie. There was nothing to do but go home, open a bottle of cheap (to offset the meat expense, of course) Champagne, and feast. They would talk about that sopressata for days, their eyes glazing over in ecstasy. They were haunted. Sure, there would be other meat feasts—chopped liver with caramelized onions from nearby Chez Marianne, juicy and aromatic roasted chickens from the butcher on rue Oberkampf, or Bastille Day’s fancy terrines from La Grande Épicerie—but always, they’d moan nostalgically for that sopressata. Wanting a piece of the action, I decided to pay a visit to the Italian vendor myself, seeking preparations for a picnic shortly before my return to the States. Liz and Doron were right: the spicy, salty, deeply grassy cured meat couldn’t possibly have been improved upon—not even by the late-evening sunlight over the Place des Vosges, the soft blanket strewn with crumbs, or the wine in yogurt-jar glasses.
So I wasn’t surprised when Doron e-mailed recently from the East Coast with a tale of meatballs. “It was one of my finer moments,” he said, describing his concoction of ground turkey, cumin, cilantro, toasted pine nuts, and golden raisins. Knowing better than to take this lightly, I immediately set to work.
As one would expect, Doron’s meatballs are delicious—mildly spiced ground turkey brightened with the unexpected sweet-tartness of raisins and the toasty crunch of pine nuts. Dolloped with a spoonful of lemon-and-cumin yogurt sauce, they’re quite nearly moan-worthy. They’d make a great hors d’oeuvre—preferably not with cheap Champagne, although I could easily be talked into it—and they’re surprisingly good cold, an important detail for those who, like myself, often stand in front of the fridge with a fork in hand.
They’ll tide me over until I can get some more of that sopressata.
Doron’s Turkey Meatballs with Golden Raisins and Pine Nuts
Adapted from the man himself
½ pound ground white-meat turkey
½ pound ground dark-meat turkey
1 small yellow onion, minced
¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
½ cup toasted pine nuts
½ cup golden raisins (chopped if they’re large)
½ cup fine bread crumbs
A few pinches ground cumin
½ tsp salt
A few pinches freshly ground black pepper
Lemon-and-cumin yogurt sauce (see below)
Mix all ingredients except olive oil and yogurt sauce together in a bowl, preferably using your hands. You don’t want to overwork the meat—that would make your final product tough—but you do want all ingredients to be evenly mixed. Form the mixture into balls of whatever size you like (mine were about 1 inch to 1 ½ inches). Heat a thin film of olive oil in a heavy skillet over moderate heat, and sauté the meatballs in batches, so as not to crowd them. As they begin to color, turn them regularly so that they are golden on all sides. They should be done when they are evenly browned and feel medium firm—but not hard—to the touch. Place on a paper towel to catch excess oil. Serve hot, warm, or cold with yogurt sauce.
Lemon-and-Cumin Yogurt Sauce
Nonfat plain yogurt
1 lemon, juiced
Garlic, finely chopped
Mix ingredients to taste in a bowl, and keep chilled until serving.